So is it time to celebrate? After more than 20 years, the consumer media has suddenly taken a new interest in 3D printers and additive prototyping/manufacturing. Granted, the lower cost systems, like those from RapMan and Bits from Bytes, show novel, non-technical uses for these printers; I loved the video that showed a printer used to decorate bakery goods. Chocolate icing as printing material—now that’s a great idea.
Perhaps that is just was this industry has needed—opportunities to show how it can be used for more than just industrial-based design or use. Julie Reece, Director of Marketing Communications at ZCorporation, recently told me that they are seeing development in artistic communities with artists using these printers for glass and copper. (More on that in a following blog.)
But there is still a lot of work left to make these systems easy for the non-engineer to use. (There has been an animated discussion on Engineering Exchange and through some LinkedIn groups about this subject.) Julie noted that the non-engineering user still needs information and education on the differences between desktop and consumer 3D systems, because there is a difference. (Some engineers might want to keep the differences in mind too—cost is low but accuracy and other factors are limited in hobby-type 3D printers. But they are run to play with.)
Work is still needed to create the support infrastructure necessary to enable a user to simply put in a design (or select one from a menu), press print, and their design “pops” out of the 3D printer. Companies like Shapeways are helping, but there still needs to be a compelling (simple) reason to print a replacement part for your house, for example, versus a quick trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s.
So what are your thoughts? Do you feel as though this industry has reached a turning point? And how would you solve some of those infrastructure problems. Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org